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Iran's Foreign Minister to Visit Japan to Discuss Growing Nuclear Debate


Japan, hoping to play a mediation role in the debate over Iran's nuclear program, has invited the Iranian foreign minister to Tokyo at the end of this month.

Japan's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday confirmed that Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will visit here for three days starting February 27. Japanese officials say the nuclear issue will be on the agenda.

Word of the visit came as Iran confirmed Tuesday that it had resumed small-scale uranium enrichment at one of its nuclear facilities, despite objections from the United Nations nuclear agency, and Western countries including the United States.

Japan is hoping to mediate between Iran and the international community, which has been closing ranks in opposition to the Islamic republic's suspected nuclear weapons program.

Earlier this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Iran to the United Nations Security Council for non-compliance with IAEA agreements. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso told reporters Tuesday that Tehran must respond to the IAEA action with care.

Aso says Japan has a number of ideas to resolve the issue and to achieve stability in the Middle East, which he calls important for Japan's national interest. Despite its close ties to the United States, Japan maintains friendly relations with Iran, which is its third-largest supplier of crude oil.

Foreign Minister Mottaki served as Tehran's ambassador to Tokyo in the late 1990's, and is believed to have close ties to a number of influential Japanese politicians.

While joining the West in urging the Iranians to avoid any conversion of uranium to weapons-grade fuel, Tokyo is hoping to play a middle-man role to avert an escalation of the crisis.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe says he is hopeful that the visit will be a positive step in helping Iran avoid international isolation. Abe says Japan is in a unique position to convey the serious concerns of the West to Iran, because of the friendly ties between the two nations.

Tehran insists that its nuclear programs are only intended to generate electricity.

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